Wisconsin's voter ID law was a mistake from the start; a political talking point dressed up as policy, aiming to fix a problem that doesn't exist. And although the law isn't particularly onerous for most people, there are some for whom obtaining the necessary ID is substantially difficult. So difficult that some won't — or won't be able to — go through the hassle of getting one.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman threw those people a lifeline, or "safety net," as he called it. Adelman issued a preliminary ruling allowing Wisconsin voters without photo identification to cast ballots by swearing to their identity. Good for Adelman; allowing people to use affidavits to vote opens the ballot door to those who otherwise might not cast a ballot.
Attorney General Brad Schimel said the ruling was disappointing but did not say whether the state would appeal it. It shouldn't. Government should be encouraging more people to vote, not placing limits on those who legitimately can.
As Sean Young, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who represented those bringing the legal challenge, put it: "This ruling is a strong rebuke of the state's efforts to limit access to the ballot box. It means that a fail-safe will be in place in November for voters who have had difficulty obtaining ID."
Yes, November, not the August 9 primary: Adelman wanted to make sure election officials had enough time to implement the ruling, and Aug. 9 is coming up fast. The judge was right to put off implementation to November.
Critics may say this guts the law because it may be too easy for someone to claim difficulty and sign an affidavit. But it's not that simple. The ruling applies only to those who have a tough time getting IDs. The system is to be available to anyone who, to get an ID, "would have to do more than retrieve a birth certificate and related documents from his or her desk drawer and make a single trip to the (Division of Motor Vehicles)," Adelman wrote.
And that would include people who don't have birth certificates, or have birth certificates with mistakes or have health problems that prevent them from visiting the nearest DMV center.
The judge provided several examples of cases in which getting the documents necessary to get an ID was onerous: "One person was directed by DMV officials to track down adoption papers and court papers from Tennessee. Another was told to request a name change through the federal Social Security Administration. A third voter over three months had to speak with a DMV investigator nine times, make two trips to a DMV center and call other agencies to locate documents," the Journal Sentinel reported.
The state did create a new system in spring that provides temporary documents to people who have the most difficulty in getting the proper ID. But Adelman said the system did not go far enough, arguing that bureaucratic mistakes were inevitable and that they would disenfranchise some eligible voters.
And disenfranchising eligible voters is something government should never do. Thanks to Adelman for providing that safety net.